Debrief From Skype Conversation About Being An Agriculture Attorney

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I hope that my readers had a wonderful Fourth of July vacation and were able to spend some time in the sun.  I had a nice time running again and spending time on a few beaches on Long Island including Shelter Island and Robert Moses Beach.  Some R & R is always a good thing.

Last Friday, I enjoyed a Skype conversation with some law students interested in a career as an agriculture lawyer.  Here are a few of the topics we discussed that I thought were worth noting:

1.  So my law school doesn’t offer any agriculture law courses.  How can I get the education that I need?

First of all, agriculture law touches upon nearly every type of law.  Agriculture law includes corporate law, landlord-tenant law, estate planning, contracts, property, torts, environmental law, international business truncations, food labeling, animal law, criminal law, family law, and everything in between.  Simply because you are not able to take an “agriculture law” class in law school does not mean that you won’t have the tools necessary to practice in this area.  Remember that law school teaches you how to think, research and write like a lawyer.  It doesn’t teach you all the answers– it teaches you how to find the answer. Nonlawyers believe that lawyers are walking encyclopedias but just isn’t the case (sorry to disappoint those of you think I am).

Second, there are other ways to get the education you need.  For example, I am the Chair of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) General Practice Solo & Small Firm Division’s Agriculture Law Committee.  I moderated Continuing Legal Education (“CLE”) webinars on crop/livestock insurance and local food law this year.  You can purchase the webinar and substantive materials directly from the ABA.  I also hope that the Committee will have some CLE’s in the future – perhaps in the areas of estate planning, employment law, and the 2012 Farm Bill.  If you are interested in staying abreast of Committee activities, I encourage you to join the Committee (and our email listserve) and get involved with a subcommittee or two.  Furthermore, Prof. Kershen runs this excellent short course for law students.  I took the lawyer version of the short course a year ago and thought it was excellent.  The National Agriculture Law Center also offers helpful educational opportunities.  I also recommend attending the American Agriculture Law Association (“AALA”) Annual Meeting in the fall.  There are travel scholarships available for law students.  Finally, you may have an option to take courses at Drake University, School of Law or the University of Arkansas, School of Law during a visiting fall/spring semester or summer term.

2.  I am having trouble getting a summer internship.  Any advice?

Yep- good ol’ fashioned networking.  It’s time-consuming but I recommend it as the best way to make the contacts you need to build a professional career.  When you reach out to attorneys and ask if they want to meet you for coffee, do not preface it by asking for a job.  Ask for advice and insight.  Get to know them as a person and let them get to know you.  Perhaps that person will know someone who will know someone that might be able to help you.  A lot of what I have to do as a business owner is networking.  Networking is about building relationships. Don’t just have coffee once and never talk to that person again.  Follow-up again in another 6 months or so to see if they want to meet-up again.  Also, don’t be the “taker” in the relationship — remember that relationships should be mutually beneficial.  Perhaps there is a contact that you have that would help the attorney you are networking with.  On average, every person you meet knows 250 people.  You might know several fold that number.  Don’t underestimate your social capital when entering a networking conversation with an attorney.

Please remember that networking is about quality – not quantity.  Without follow-up with your new contacts, they just become another name in your rolodex.  If you meet someone at a networking event, write notes on the back of the business card so you remember the conversation.  I later put these notes in my Outlook so I can remember how I met this person.  I also like connecting with folks on LinkedIn and think every law student should have a professional online profile (and I welcome you to connect with me on LinkedIn as well).  As a rule of thumb, one should feel comfortable connecting on LinkedIn with anyone that they would exchange a business card with.  So use it liberally (yet professionally).  Finally, I recommend becoming a member of AALA and reaching out to attorney members in your geographic area.

3.  I didn’t grow up on a farm or ranch but I would like to be an agriculture lawyer.  Any suggestions?

Absolutely.  Get involved in the agriculture industry however you can.  For example, I recommend becoming a member of your state affiliate of the American Farm Bureau Federation (“AFBF”) (e.g., New York Farm Bureau) or other agriculture commodity groups.  Get involved in these organizations at the state and local level.  Ask members if you can come by some weekend and visit the farm/ranch.  I have found that the agriculture community is very welcoming for folks interested in visiting their farm.  Get to know as many agriculture producers that you can and ask questions about their business and the legal issues that affect their life.  Pay attention to agriculture policy developments at the state and national level.

If you have missed the Skype conversations thus far and would like to participate in one in the future, remember that I am having them on the first Friday of every month from 2-3pm.  Here is the info on the August and September calls.  It is not a formal presentation so come prepared with questions.

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